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February 11, 2020
By: TA Editorial Team

For those who let the scale reign supreme, you’re not alone. According to Shape Scale, 66 percent of people use the scale as their default mode for tracking their weight loss progress. But, focusing solely on how much you weigh doesn’t take into account other variables that the scale can’t measure. The scale doesn’t tell you how much muscle you have in relation to body fat, the status of your mental health or the amount of stamina you’ve gained. That number tells one small aspect of the story, so it doesn’t fully reflect your progression.

If you see the number on the scale increase, it doesn’t always mean you’ve gained body fat or “failed” at your weight loss endeavors. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate. There are so many other factors that can temporarily throw off the number on the scale, such as sodium intake, water weight, digestive health, sleep patterns, diet and exercise. Since your weight isn’t the be-all and end-all of health, here are more effective ways to measure your progress.

Grab a measuring tape

If you’ve been regularly adding weights to your exercise routine, whether that be resistance bands, ankle weights or dumbbells, chances are you’ve gained muscle and shed fat. Muscle is denser and takes up less space than fat, so adding muscle to your frame gives you a sculpted and lean look but can make the number on the scale increase. Instead of resorting to panic mode at the sight of a higher number, take solace in the fact that you might have gotten stronger. The scale doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle, so two people who weigh exactly the same can have completely different body compositions.

A better indicator of fat loss than relying on the scale is taking measurements. Tape measures paint a more accurate picture of whether you’ve bulked up or slimmed down. Use a measuring tape to measure your biceps, chest, thighs, hips and glutes. Log the numbers and continue to measure different parts of your body every week to assess how your body is changing. When you lose weight and gain muscle, your circumference of these body parts will decrease.

Snap some selfies

Since the scale doesn’t tell you how much lean muscle you have, track changes in your body with a camera. Taking progress photos throughout your health journey will give you important visual information about how your body has changed over time. Snap a photo at the beginning of your weight loss endeavors and continue to take photos every week. Consistency is key when it comes to progress photos. Take photos wearing the same clothes and posing in the same way at the same day of the week, time and location to pick up on subtle changes. Lay the series of photos side by side to see more visible changes that you might not notice on a day-to-day basis. When the scale isn’t budging, these photos will reassure you that you’re still making progress.

Notice how your clothes feel

Muscle is denser than fat, so your body may become more toned without losing any weight. To figure out whether or not you’ve slimmed down, pay attention to how your clothes feel when you put them on. You might be able to rock the jeans you wore in college, or you might need to invest in a belt to wear your all-time favorite skirt again. Your pants might feel looser in the waist and tighter in the thighs when you lose fat and build muscle. Going down a pant size also demonstrates that you’ve last fat, which the scale can’t detect.

Track your fitness levels

Another effective way to measure your progress is by evaluating your fitness levels. If you can add more reps to your routine, start the next exercise in your set without needing lots of rest, hold a plank longer, pick up the pace or work out for a few more minutes, you’re gaining strength and endurance. When you become healthier and more fit, you’ll also have more energy to tackle daily activities, like walking up the stairs without huffing and puffing, chasing your kids around the yard without stopping to catch your breath, lugging groceries to your car with ease or walking your dog another block. Having steady energy levels without relying on caffeine or sugar to give you a boost is evidence that you’re eating a nutritious diet and getting in better shape.

Assess your sleep pattern

Alongside stress levels, hormonal changes, exposure to light and alcohol consumption, your diet and exercise routine influence your sleep quality. Sleep problems are common in those who are overweight or obese, and as little as a 10 percent reduction in weight can improve sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances. When you work out regularly and nourish your body with the right vitamins and minerals, you’ll sleep more soundly and feel more well-rested the next day. If you’re falling asleep shortly after your head hits the pillow and sleeping through the night without tossing and turning, your hard work is paying off. You can also use a fitness tracker to measure your sleep quality and see how your workouts and diet tie into your sleep cycle.